Pope Francis called for a "sense of brotherhood" at an open-air mass in Cyprus on Friday, the second day of a visit to the divided Mediterranean island that has largely focused on the plight of migrants.
As a gesture of solidarity with those fleeing poverty and conflict, the 84-year-old pontiff was expected to offer 50 immigrants now in Cyprus the chance for a new life in Italy.
The pope delivered his open-air mass at Nicosia's main football stadium to some 7,000 worshipers, many of them workers from the Philippines and South Asia, who make up a large proportion of the 25,000 primarily Greek-Orthodox Catholics in Cyprus.
"Faced with our own inner darkness and the challenges that we have before us in the church and in society, we are called to renew our sense of brotherhood," Francis told them.
"If we remain divided, if each person thinks only of himself, or of his group, if we refuse to remain united, if we do not dialogue and walk together, we will never be completely cured of our blindness."
Many in the crowd waved the flags of nearby Lebanon, the Philippines and the pope's native Argentina. A 130-member multicultural choir sang songs in Arabic, English and Greek.
“We are very lucky,” said 31-year-old Jackylyn Fo Bulado, a domestic worker from the Philippines who wore a T-shirt with the Pope's image, said before Mass began.
"We are waiting for a simple message of love and peace from the Pope and that he will bless Cyprus and the world."
The Pope previously visited the Holy Archbishopric of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus in Nicosia, seeking to improve the historically difficult relations between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches.
"When it comes to our relationships, history has opened wide furrows between us, but the Holy Spirit wishes that with humility and respect we draw closer once more," he said in an address to Orthodox clergy, including Archbishop Chrysostom II. from Cyprus. .
Elena Chentsova, an Orthodox Christian originally from Ukraine, said she woke up early to see the pope.
"I am Orthodox and I hope that he will spread a message of dialogue between the different religions, to be even closer," the 42-year-old told AFP.
Francis, on his 35th international trip since becoming pope in 2013, is the second Catholic pontiff to visit Cyprus after Benedict XVI did in 2010. He travels to Greece on Saturday morning.
Cyprus said it had deployed 500 police officers to secure the pontiff's visit, with pointed shooters deployed on rooftops and a helicopter whizzing through the sky.
Police said a 43-year-old man was arrested after a security check at the stadium when a knife was found in his possession. A police spokesman said the knife was believed to "have nothing to do with the Pope" and was for personal use.
Later, the Pope will conduct an ecumenical prayer service with migrants from dozens of nations at the Church of the Holy Cross of Nicosia, located near the UN-patrolled "Green Line" that divides the country.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish forces invaded and occupied the northern third of the island in response to a military coup sponsored by the Greek junta in power at the time.
Only Ankara recognizes the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and tensions simmer between the two sides.
'Walls of fear'
The mostly Greek south accuses the north of sending migrants across the Green Line and also says it now receives the largest number of first-time asylum seekers from any EU member country.
On Thursday, Francis lamented "the terrible laceration" of Cyprus and also urged greater unity in Europe, rather than nationalism and "walls of fear" as the continent faces an influx of refugees and migrants.
The island experience served as a reminder to Europe, he said, that "we have to work together to build a future worthy of humanity, overcome divisions, tear down walls, dream and work for unity."
On Thursday night, Francisco visited President Nicos Anastasiades to discuss the painful division of the island.
"I think of the deep suffering of all those people who cannot return to their homes and places of worship," the Pope said, urging dialogue.
Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar accused the south of trying to use the trip to score "political goals against Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus."
It was a "source of pain for us that Pope Francis only visits Greek Cyprus," he said.
“There are two towns in Cyprus. Not only Greek Christians live in Cyprus, but also Turkish Muslims. This is one of the basic realities of Cyprus ”.
Source Credit: TheGuardian
Pope Francis headed to the divided island of Cyprus on Thursday as part of a historic journey to advance two of his priorities: the plight of migrants and interfaith dialogue.
The 84-year-old pontiff will land at Larnaca airport on the Mediterranean island at 3:00 pm (1300 GMT) before continuing early Saturday to Greece, another front in Europe's migrant and refugee crisis.
Francis will be the second Catholic pontiff to set foot on Cyprus, which has a Greek Orthodox majority after Benedict XVI's visit in 2010.
Migration will be a key theme of his visit to the country, which complains of carrying a disproportionate burden of the flow of people trying to reach the European Union.
In his weekly audience on Wednesday, the Pope said the longer five-day trip was an "opportunity to reach out to a wounded humanity," noting that there are "so many migrants looking for hope."
He also said that his trip "will be a trip to the sources of apostolic faith and brotherhood among Christians of various denominations."
The visit to Cyprus will culminate with a mass at an open-air football stadium in the capital, Nicosia, eagerly awaited by the roughly 25,000 Catholics in a country of around a million people.
These include thousands of Maronites whose ancestors came from Syria and Lebanon, but the majority are foreign workers from the Philippines and South Asia, along with African immigrants.
More than 500 Cypriot policemen will be on duty to ensure the visit.
'Vulnerable and marginalized'
On Friday afternoon, Francis will conduct an ecumenical prayer with migrants at a Nicosia church that serves worshipers from dozens of nations near the UN-patrolled "Green Line" that divides the country.
According to the Cypriot authorities, negotiations were under way with the Vatican to organize the transfer to Rome of several migrant families currently in Cyprus.
That would repeat a gesture Francis made on the Greek island of Lesbos in 2016 when he returned to the Vatican with three Syrian Muslim families who had fled the bombings in their homeland.
In a video message before the trip, Francis described the Mediterranean as a "huge graveyard", referring to the thousands who have died trying to reach European shores to escape conflict and poverty.
The Pope has long called for better protection for migrants and last weekend expressed his grief over the recent drowning of 27 people who tried to cross the English Channel and those blocked at the Belarusian-Polish border.
"We know that Pope Francis goes above all to the most vulnerable and marginalized," Maronite Archbishop of Cyprus Selim Sfeir told AFP.
"Today, these are the migrants who have been forced to leave their countries painfully or illegally."
Cypriot authorities say the island has the highest number of first-time asylum applications among the 27 EU members relative to its population. They accuse Turkey of allowing migrants to cross from the north.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish forces invaded and occupied the northern third of the island in response to a coup sponsored by the Greek junta in power at the time.
Only Ankara recognizes the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
The division saw some 200,000 people, including many northern Maronites, displaced from their homes.
UN-sponsored negotiations seeking to reunify the island have been suspended since 2017.
'Defender of the poor'
When visiting the Orthodox countries of Greece and Cyprus, "the message (of the Pope) is surely about dialogue," the Latin patriarchal vicar for Cyprus, Jerzy Kraj, told AFP.
The Orthodox Church has been separated from the Catholic Church since the 1054 schism between Rome and Constantinople, present-day Istanbul.
On Friday morning, Francis will meet with the Orthodox bishops of Cyprus at the Archbishop's Palace in the Old City of Nicosia, following a Thursday evening meeting with President Nicos Anastasiades.
Anastasiades will propose his country's vision of "a just and viable solution to the Cyprus problem," an official statement said.
A Vatican source said the pontiff is expected to deliver "a plea for unity and peace" in Cyprus.
The Pope's first stop after landing on Thursday will be the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace in Nicosia.
There, he will meet the Maronite patriarch Bechara al-Rahi, who is traveling from nearby Lebanon, a country mired in political and economic turmoil.
About 1,000 other Lebanese also arrived in Cyprus for the papal visit, Maronite Church officials said.
Elena, a Maronite Cypriot in her 50s, said Francis can't get there soon enough.
"I asked for a day off so I could join this historic event," said the woman who belongs to a new choir that rehearses for the papal mass.
"We love the Pope very much because he is an exceptional person," added Elena, describing him as "humble and defender of the poor and of peace."
Source Credit: TheGuardian
Hundreds of protesters rallied in Cyprus on Saturday against corruption scandals swirling around the government after the Cypriot president was mentioned in the Pandora Papers.
Around 2,000 people gathered for the anti-government demonstration in the capital Nicosia, organised by the main opposition party, the communist AKEL.
The far-reaching Pandora Papers journalistic investigation, released earlier this month, found links between companies in offshore havens and over 300 high-level politicians and public officials around the world, including more than a dozen serving heads of state and government.
Protesters called on the “corrupt” ruling conservative government led by Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades to resign.
“Enough is enough,” AKEL leader Stefanos Stefanou told the rally.
He said the Mediterranean island, a member of the European Union, had become a “laughing stock” compounded by the Pandora Papers revelations.
“For years, clouds have been gathering, until today’s storm broke out,” Stefanou said.
A law firm founded by President Anastasiades, Nicos Chr. Anastasiades and Partners, is named in the Pandora Papers.
According to the investigation, it appears as “a key offshore go-between for wealthy Russians”.
The firm allegedly helped Russian billionaire and former senator Leonid Lebedev “conceal ownership of four companies by listing law firm employees as owners of Lebedev’s entities”.
Lebedev fled his home country several years ago after being accused of embezzlement, according to the probe.
Anastasiades, twice elected president since 2013, has denied any wrongdoing and said he welcomes any investigation into his finances.
He said he took no active role in the law firm’s affairs after becoming leader of the conservatives DISY party in 1997.
“The president welcomes an investigation, which will once again categorically refute those who use mud as a means of political survival,” a government spokesman said in response to Saturday’s rally.
AKEL was creating a “toxic climate with distortions and slanderous allegations”, the statement from Marios Pelekanos said.
Last year, Cyprus scrapped a lucrative passports-for-foreign-investment scheme amid corruption allegations and pressure from Brussels.
A damning public inquiry said that over half of more than 6,700 passports issued under the scheme were granted illegally, amid a due diligence vacuum and insufficient background checks.
One of the largest ever global media investigations, the Pandora Papers involved more than 600 journalists who together analysed some 11.9 million documents from financial services companies around the world.
Source Credit: TheGuardian
Cyprus re-introduced tough measures to contain a new surge of the coronavirus infections, including wearing masks in all indoor public places, Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou announced on Friday.
After the meeting chaired by President Nicos Anastasiades, which approved the measures, Ioannou told a press conference that the additional restrictions were considered necessary to check a fresh outbreak of COVID-19 cases centered in the southern city of Limassol.
The minister said that those who failed to observed the rules liable to a fine of 300 euros.
President Anastasiades warned that failure in respecting the measures will lead to stricter ones with serious financial repercussions.
Cyprus came out of a 10-week lockdown at the beginning of June, with the government spending about 10 percent of the gross domestic product to support businesses and workers.
"I call on everyone to respect what our people with sacrifices have achieved, to responsibly observe the decisions of the government... as well as the excellent scientific team that advises the government," Anastasiades said in a written statement.
The epidemiological team reported nearly 40 new cases in the last four days, with many of them detected in random sampling of people among the community. About half of the new cases were detected in Limassol.
The health minister said social gatherings of more than 10 people will not be allowed in Limassol, adding the maximum number of customers in restaurants, cafes and bars has been cut by half to 75 indoors and 150 outdoors. The measure will be in place for the next three weeks.
According to Ioannou, the daily random coronavirus tests at airports will be increased from 600 to 1,000, mainly focusing on Cypriots returning from holidays. "As it emerged that the biggest percentage of cases concerns locals with a travel history," explained the minister.
He criticized the irresponsible behaviors by some people, saying "the lifting of many restrictions has led to many ignoring the personal protection regulation and social distancing while people who should have been self-isolating did not do so."
Ioannou said the authorities will also intensify checks in businesses, restaurants and other premises "with explicit instructions for zero tolerance".
The Transport, Communications and Works Ministry also announced that in addition to the mask wearing requirement, buses in Limassol will run at half of their capacity.
The restrictions were announced as the authorities are bracing for arrivals of people as of Saturday from Britain.
Britain, the biggest tourism market for Cyprus and also a country with a large Cypriot community, has been categorized in travel Group B countries, meaning that travelers have to present a certificate for a negative coronavirus test.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades on Wednesday reshuffled his government, bringing in three new ministers and changing post for one, government spokesman Kyriakos Kousios said.
The spokesman said Anastasiades appointed Emily Yiolitis as justice minister to replace George Savvides, who was appointed as attorney general on Tuesday.
Charalambos Petrides, the mayor of a Nicosia suburb, was appointed defense minister to succeed Savvas Angelides, who was earlier appointed as deputy attorney general.
The spokesman said Natasa Pilides, up to now deputy minister of shipping, was moved to the minister of energy, commerce, industry and tourism, in succession of Yiorgos Lakkotrypis, who had signaled his intention to step down after seven years in office.
Anastasiades brought in shipping expert Vassilis Demetriades to fill the vacancy of the deputy shipping minister. Demetriades is currently the national expert on maritime policy issues at the European Commission's Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport.
The so-called Green Line divides the eastern Mediterranean island into Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot zones.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci reached an agreement to reopen crossing points Monday, for the sake of about 2,000 Turkish Cypriots who had asked to return to their jobs or schools and who needed medical treatment.
Turkish Cypriot authorities said that those who would cross over would have to stay until the end of the month, when quarantine regulations come to an end.
Those who crossed said they signed a form agreeing to be quarantined for 14 days if they returned earlier.
Most of them carried bedding and other personal belongings in the trunk of their cars, saying that they would either sleep in their vehicles or in accommodation provided by their employers.
Government spokesman Kyriacos Kousios said President Anastasiades was following developments regarding the crossings and would make decisions according to developments.
Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974. A Turkish Cypriot state is recognized only by Turkey. Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, but only the internationally recognized south enjoys full membership benefits.
The Cypriot government is mulling bringing forward easing of some measures introduced in mid-March to contain COVID-19, along with the implementation of third phase measures as of June 9, an official said on Tuesday.
"The possibility of accelerating some measures scheduled to be relaxed at a later stage was discussed," Maria Koliou, a member of the scientific team advising the government, said after a meeting with President Nicos Anastasiades and ministers involved in implementing the relaxation measures.
"The good epidemiological situation makes it possible to introduce some of the relaxation measures earlier," said Koliou, an infectious diseases professor at the State University of Cyprus.
Koliou said that final decisions will be made at a meeting of the Council of Ministers on Wednesday and will be announced officially the same day.
Koliou said that mass wedding receptions and concerts are not among the measures to be expedited, adding that it is difficult to control the behavior of people in large numbers.
Measures scheduled to be introduced as part of the third phase include the reopening of airports, the disembarkation from cruise ships, operation of hotels for foreign guests, reopening of theatres and open air cinemas, shopping malls, department stores, gyms and summer schools.
Cyprus has listed 19 countries in two groups for the resumption of flights.
Until June 20, travelers from all countries will be required to have certificate for a negative COVID-19 test made 72 hours prior to the flight. After that date, those coming from group A countries - Greece, Malta, Bulgaria, Norway, Austria, Finland, Slovenia, Hungary, Israel, Denmark, Germany, Slovakia and Lithuania - will travel freely.
Travelers from group B countries - Switzerland, Poland, Romania, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic - will still be required to have a test certificate.
Petros Karayiannis, also a member of the scientific advisory team, said that the modalities and dates of implementing third phase measures were noted down and are expected to receive final approval by the Cabinet on Wednesday.
But he added that the fourth stage of restrictions easing, which includes opening of indoors cinemas and theaters, casino operation, indoor children's play areas and mass gatherings in weddings and concerts, is "somehow ambivalent."
"Some measures will relax earlier than planned," he added.
He confirmed press reports that Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou had objected to the bringing forward of some measures as being too risky and the scientific team accepted his views.
Karayiannis also said that concerns were raised by specialists over the reopening of crossing points on the buffer zone separating the part of Cyprus controlled by Turkish troops from the Cyprus government jurisdiction.
The issue was discussed by Greek and Turkish Cypriot specialists on Monday.
He said that the concerns come from the fact that many university students in the Turkish controlled part of Cyprus come from Arab countries where the coronavirus pandemic is on the rise.
President Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci agreed on reopening some crossing points on June 8 for people working or studying in the government jurisdiction areas.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi discussed on Friday with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades means of promoting bilateral cooperation and several regional issues, the Egyptian presidency office said.
In a phone conversation, the two leaders talked about the efforts in fighting COVID-19 and containing its health, economic and social impacts, said Bassam Radi, spokesperson of the presidency, in a statement.
The talks also touched upon regional issues of common concerns such as securing the energy in eastern Mediterranean Sea.
The Cypriot president hailed "the vital role and the political weight of Egypt in maintaining the regional stability," reiterating the European Union's appreciation for Egypt's efforts in achieving stability, fighting terrorism and combating illegal immigration.
Radi added that the two leaders also exchanged views on the recent developments in Libya and agreed on intensifying efforts for settling the ongoing conflicts through political solution.
All previous projections on Cyprus' economy have been thrown "upside down" by the coronavirus pandemic crisis as the economy is expected to undergo a "serious recession" in 2020, said Constantinos Herodotou, governor of the Central Bank of Cyprus (CBC), on Thursday.
"The economy's prospects for 2020 and afterwards are dramatically overshadowed by the negative developments of the coronavirus pandemic," Herodotou said in an introductory note included in the central bank's annual report for 2019.
Herodotou said that factors other than the pandemic continue to present general downward risks for the Cypriot economy, which could decelerate its future course.
He listed external geopolitical developments, Brexit, trade tensions and the high level of private debt in addition to the challenges faced by the banking sector.
"We will have to face (these risks) even after the pandemic, but to an obviously greater degree," Herodotou added.
He said that the progress made in 2019 supported the fast and coordinated actions of the government and the central bank in dealing with the economic impact of the pandemic.
Finance Minister Constantinos Petrides on Thursday detailed a 10-point plan announced by President Nicos Anastasiades in a televised address Wednesday night, aimed at pumping liquidity in the economy in the form of cash grants and cheap loans to businesses.
"After the crisis is over we will have to remain focused in the effort of full consolidation of the economy and of our banking system," said Herodotou.
"This will lay the foundations on which a long-term and at the same time sustainable growth course the Cypriot economy can be based," he added.
Previous projections by the central bank in late 2019 showed that the Cypriot economy was expected to see growth rates for 2020 to 2022 lower than that of last year.
"This projection has been turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic," he said, adding that on this basis, "it is expected that 2020 will record a serious recession."
Herodotou said the financial impact cannot be quantified with precision for the time being, given that there is not sufficient data yet, and the pandemic's duration cannot be projected.
"Despite unprecedented developments and very negative short-term impact, we must consider how much worse the situation would be, had the progress of 2019 not been achieved both in macro-economic and fiscal policy issues as well as on matters relating to the stability of the banking and financial sector," Herodotou noted.
A report by CBC on Wednesday said the banking system managed to reduce non-performing loans, the legacy of the 2013 economic crisis, by 561 million euros, or 5.9 percent, to 8.97 billion euros at the end of 2019.
Total non-performing loans represented 27.9 percent of total loans, down from a 2014 peak of 52 percent of total loans, or over 27 billion euros.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades announced on Wednesday a revised package to pump into the economy more than 1.2 billion euros (1.32 billion U.S. dollars), about 6 percent of the country's annual gross domestic product (GDP), to help it out of the coronavirus pandemic crisis.
He added that businesses will also have the opportunity to draw up to 1.7 billion euros in cheap loans.
Speaking after a night session of the Cabinet of Ministers, which approved the package, Anastasiades gave the outline of 10 decisions aimed at helping self-employed people and businesses out of the crisis, provided they will not lay off any of their staff.
He said that details of the package will be announced at a press conference by the finance minister on Thursday. The revised package will replace the one the government was forced to withdraw from parliament.
Anastasiades said that a total of 800 million euros will be allocated to small and medium sized businesses, with a maximum of 250 employees, through the Cyprus Business Fund.
Another 500 million euros will be given in loans to small and medium businesses, which will be 80 percent guaranteed by the European Investment Bank.
Anastasiades' announcements came only a few hours after the European Commission announced the proposal for a 750 billion-euro recovery fund to deal with the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the president, Cyprus will participate in the recovery fund. "Cyprus is expected to receive from this fund 300 million to 400 million euros for the needs of the Cypriot economy," he said.
He added that beyond the loans guaranteed by the European Investment Bank, the government will subsidize the interest of loans totaling 1.7 billion euros, which will be obtained by businesses up to Jan. 31, 2021.
Anastasiades elaborated that each one of about 50,000 businesses will receive a free cash grant of between 1,500 euros and 6,000 euros according to the number of people they employed and the period they were inactive during the six-week coronavirus lockdown.
Anastasiades also announced a reduction in the value-added tax (VAT) for restaurants from 9 percent to 5 percent, and a total of 15.5 million euros in subsidies to airliners which will resume flights to and from Cypriot airports as of June 9.
He said that an additional 22 million euros will be allocated for the support of the agricultural sector.
In a bid to revive the construction sector, Anastasiades said people can obtain cheap housing loans of up to 300,000 euros.